CHATHAM, NJ - As part of the "ice hockey education" provided at Chatham High School, coach Frank Gilberti occasionally assigns his players homework.
One such assignment asked the student-athletes to write down what making the state playoffs would mean to them. Will Barnett handed in his homework and added on a request.
"He said he remembered how hard I was on him when he was a freshman and he wanted me to be even harder on him now," Gilberti said. "That says a lot about him."
Barnett has earned more ice time as part of the Cougars penalty-kill unit, and he's helped Chatham (8-1-4) earn a No. 4 state ranking by NJ.com. In back-to-back games against Montclair Kimberley Academy and Randolph, the senior winger produced a short-handed goal in each game. The goal against Randolph sparked a return from a two-goal deficit in a game that ended in a 2-2 tie.
Will Barnett is the TAP into Chatham Athlete of the Week.
Barnett played on state championship teams for Chatham in both ice hockey and lacrosse. Those titles came when he was a sophomore and he's determined to get back to the state finals, which are played at the Prudential Center in Newark.
Barnett is doing his part to make that happen, leading the Cougars with 13 goals, and also notching eight assists on a line with his younger brother, Ryan. He's already way ahead of last season when he finished with 12 goals and eight assists.
"I wanted to come in and have a good year and try to get back to Prudential for my senior year," the 18-year-old said. "I want to experience that with all the other seniors on the team. To be able to do it twice would be unbelievable."
Gilberti knows Barnett for his funny personality, but he's noticed a much more serious player this season.
"He's been very serious all year long," Gilberti said. "He's been our best practice player. There is a direct correlation between elevating his level in practice and what he's doing in the games."
Gilberti knew that Barnett would be a productive player the first time he saw him. It was an August game at Union Sports Arena, where Barnett, ready to enter his freshman year at CHS, came down with the puck, cut into the middle and scored.
"The way he handled himself, I said, "This kid is going to play varsity this year,' " Gilberti said. "I've coach him for four years and I'm seeing him mature. He's stepped up in every aspect of his game. Seniors need to be the hardest workers and he's done a phenomenal job. He's been our best leader. He's played his way into more ice time."
Barnett has been playing hockey since he was five, and this year might remind him of his early days since he's teaming up with his brother, Ryan, a junior.
"We played together when we were really young," Ryan Barnett said. "This is the first time we've played together since then so it's pretty fun."
Will Barnett talks about short-handed tally vs. Randolph and team goal of playing for a state title